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Is the British Monarchy a worthy institution or outdated relic?

By Chaya Benyamin
 Ben A. Pruchnie / Stringer
 *Updated 2022
Elizabeth II, the former Queen of England, who died at the age 96, held the throne for 70 years – the longest reign of any monarch in history. While her recent passing has evoked a strong and global outpouring of grief in support of her as a person and leader, it has also raised questions regarding the monarchy’s legacy and whether there is a future for it.
Despite the ongoing drama within the royal family, it seems as though the majority of British subjects, at least those over 25, still support the British monarchy and the royal family. But in an era that increasingly values merit over birth (take Prince Will’s marriage to middle-class Kate and Prince Harry’s marriage to former actress Meghan Markle, a Catholic, divorced American), the very concept of a monarchy seems outdated at best and positively inegalitarian at worst. So, is the British monarchy a worthwhile institution that should continue, albeit under a new king, or an unnecessary relic of times long gone?
Here are three arguments in support of the British monarchy and three against it.

 

God Saved The Queen!

 

The Queen unified the British masses and others across the world, as will the King

As an a-political figurehead (even in the heated times of Brexit and especially during the anxiety-ridden pandemic), the Queen, and by extension, the royal family, united Great Britain around principles that transcended day-to-day politics, highlighting shared history and values, and contributing to societal cohesion. This unifying effect stretched long beyond the UK’s borders to the 2.2 billion subjects of the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary union of 54 nations dedicated to shared values like democracy and human rights. Previously headed by Queen Elizabeth II and now helmed by King Charles III, the Commonwealth unites countries in history and trade, and provides a friendly platform to hold member states to high civic standards.

 

The royal family has historically provided assurance in uncertain times

In times of upheaval, the English have always leaned on the monarchy as a symbol of security in a changing world. Queen Elizabeth II’s 1952 coronation provides an excellent example. While Great Britain was recovering from the ravages of WWII, a country whose citizens were living on rations held an outsized ceremony to commemorate their new queen. In the Queen’s prosperity, the people of England saw their own prosperity, and the coronation a shining symbol of English perseverance. Moreover, there is something profoundly comforting in knowing that if the state’s political institutions go berserk – or get sidelined by the coronavirus – there is a statesperson prepared to take the reins.

 

The royal family is a boon to the United Kingdom’s economy

Step aside James Bond, the Windsor family is the UK’s most popular and marketable brand, in good times as well as in bad. Be it weddings or births, the world is constantly watching as the Windsor family expands or, sadly, gets smaller. The prestige, popularity (and family drama) of the royal family earns the UK plenty of PR that drives tourism and business. Estimates from the British Tourism Council surmise that the Windsor family, worth an estimated $88 billion, generates over $770 million in tourist spending annually. Additionally, the family’s milestones (such as the weddings of Prince William and Prince Harry and the births of their respective children) spur adjacent industries – injecting the economy with hundreds of millions of extra dollars from Britons and non-Britons alike who are eager to participate in the festivities.

 

Magna Carta the Royal Family Out of Here!

 

 

Monarchy is unfair to monarchs

Being born a prince or princess is very much an accident of birth. But is it a happy one? According to Princess Diana and the Duchess of Sussex, no. Imagine a life where your every movement was carefully watched and judged, where you were forbidden to have political conversations, refused medical treatment – even when having suicidal thoughts. To put it bluntly, the life of royals is dictated by tradition and expectation; they don’t enjoy the same basic freedoms as their subjects. Many argue that the UK has long passed the necessity of an absolute ruler. It stands to reason that, if the royals’ role in the governance of their society is largely ceremonial, then English society would be generous to release them of this burden, as Prince Harry and Meghan have accomplished.

 

The monarchy ties England to a dark past that is best left behind

Sure, the majority of Britons express favor for the monarchy and royal family. Of course, speaking against the monarchy is technically an offense that can be punishable by life in prison. Laws like the aforementioned Treason Felony Act reveal the pernicious nature of the British Monarchy’s past, and to an extent, its present. Monarchies have long survived on the bread and blood of their subjects, whom they regularly plundered and sent to wars on their behalf. Add to this the English Crown’s long history of colonialism, slavery and racism – its subjugation and pilfering of nearly a quarter of the planet’s resources – and reveal a wholly inhumane enterprise. Is an institution that thrives upon degradation really an appropriate centerpiece of national pride?

 

Monarchy is expensive

Weighed against the cost of security, travel, and yearly pensions (even for extended family!), the royal family’s revenues are not quite as bountiful as they seem. The royal family cost taxpayers in the United Kingdom $86 million in 2018/19 – a 41% increase over the previous year. That’s quite a price tag for figureheads in a country strapped with over $2.45 trillion in debt. Arguably, this money could be put to better use to improve the nation’s ailing (some would even say failing) healthcare system, especially during a global pandemic, or spent on schools.

 

The Bottom Line: The British monarchy is UK society’s most exquisite display of romanticism – at once representing the grandness of the past and the promise of the future. However, it is both expensive to uphold and may be trapping the British in a past they no longer connect with (just ask Harry). Do you think the British monarchy should be preserved, or, in the absence of Queen Elizabeth, is it time for a change?

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